The Tide is Turning: natural flood defence makes a come-back

In the wake of the Asian tsunami and Hurricane Katrina, much has been made of the potential for natural flood defence. Marshes, sand banks and mangrove swamps, which have come under tremendous pressure from coastal development around the world, are vitally important for protecting communities from the harsher effects of the sea. Now it seems that the UK government at least, is learning from past mistakes and a number of man-made wetland projects are under way. Work has just begun on the largest artificially created salt marsh in the country, with bulldozers moving in last week to pull down the existing sea wall on Wallasea Island in Essex. Now it is a question of letting the sea do the work, flooding 115 hectares of former farm land to create a unique environment for marine birds, fish, insects and plants. Barry Gardiner, Biodiversity Minister (we love that job description!) praised the new project for its environmental and social benefits:"Saltmarsh is more rare than rainforest, and is important to people, particularly as a flood and storm defence, and to wildlife. Hundreds of thousands of wetland birds rely entirely on the Essex saltmarsh for their food each winter. Wallasea Wetlands will be a wonderful feeding and roosting habitat for birds like Oystercatchers, Avocets and Little Terns, which have been gradually displaced from the area during the last fifty years, as well as creating a haven for other rare wildlife." [Written by: Sami Grover]